The Power in Passion: Thabiso's Changemaker Journey
This story was written by Arianna Mosqueda and edited for length and clarity.
As a university student in South Africa working on youth development, Thabiso actively sees the potential for excellence in all students from primary to high school. However, she noticed that once students reach high school, they are often deterred from their studies due to the increased prevalence of socio-economic challenges that they face in their home lives.
As a high schooler, Thabiso faced similar challenges. “When I was in high school,” Thabiso shares, “there were a lot of confusing moments for myself. I needed career guidance. I needed mentors who would help me career-wise and inform me about different careers and perspectives. I needed something to ground me because a lot was happening.” Wanting to tackle this challenge in her community, Thabiso helped launch the Supreme Cadets Institute, a non-profit organization that provides academic and social support to young people.
The Supreme Cadets Institute wants to make sure that the young students in their community “leave high school with the same excellency that they left primary school with.” To achieve this goal, the venture provides students with tutoring, course guides, homework help, and exam support. Beyond academic support, Thabiso decided to incorporate mental health and well-being exercises. She says, “We realized that there is a lot happening in high school, so we also teach [students] about mental health. We do recreation and sports with them.”
Knowing that she would be more powerful with a team, Thabiso coordinated with her peers to help students struggling to find their full academic potential. “It’s a team of seven,” Thabiso exclaims, “We came together, we came up with our own pledge, we came up with our own policies and procedures, and we implemented our strategies.” Those on Thabiso’s team are called “Cadets,” volunteering their time and energy to uplift learners in their community.
Thabiso states, “We each have our roles and different contributions to the movement. We have people who are studying engineering; they get to help our learners with math and science classes. Then we have other people who are in accounting or financial studies; they help our learners with accounting, business studies, and economics.”
When the organization was first created, Thabiso and her team faced many challenges. In the beginning, there were not enough volunteers for the number of children interested in her venture. To overcome this challenge, Thabiso sourced external tutors to support tutoring classes and external coaches to help with recreational activities. In doing so, Thabiso quickly learned that there were many others who were passionate about community development and willing to help.
After months of coordinating her first activities, Thabiso thought deeply about the journey students were on, rather than just offering a set of activities. She imagined participants eventually becoming Cadets themselves, helping other students, and being more civically engaged in their community. Thabiso shares, “We wanted to train these learners to be Cadets. We had to also come up with activities and challenges that would ultimately help them become the good citizens that we want them to be.”
As Cadets, Thabiso thought, these students would excel both in academics and as leaders. Accordingly, Thabiso and her team incorporated team-building exercises, leadership workshops, and social entrepreneurship sessions into their programming so that students learn how to identify social issues and design sustainable solutions. In training to become Cadets, these young students are practicing what it means to be a changemaker.
Thabiso has a unique vision for her community. If everyone were a changemaker, she believes, “My community would be filled with people who are optimistic about life, people who are compassionate, people who respect one another, people who have empathy for one another, people who always lend a hand without thinking, ‘What am I getting out of this?’”
She offers advice to those who are aspiring to create change in their neighborhood, stating that “You don’t always have to get it right. I think when you want to see yourself as a leader, you tend to think a leader does everything perfectly. Allow yourself to learn, allow yourself to listen to other people, reach out to other people when you need help. Be easy on yourself, don’t put yourself under too much pressure; do what you can do, do what you do best.”
Through her work at the Supreme Cadets Institute, Thabiso is helping to build a future for young students in her community while creating a culture that supports young people to lead. Although Thabiso felt she did not have the support system she needed in high school, her experiences have made her passionate about providing that support to other bright-eyed students like herself. “I’m trying to be the person I needed when I was in high school,” she says smiling.
Thabiso’s journey demonstrates that passion, and, in her case, a passion for community development, is foundational for becoming a changemaker. While some young people may be intimidated by the false notion that leaders strive for perfection, Thabiso has learned that it is passion – not perfection - that truly fuels a young leader’s journey.